Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case discussing what that court called the “sudden emergency doctrine.” The court explained that the doctrine applies when a defendant is faced with a sudden emergency, and if it applies, it excuses the defendant from exercising reasonable judgment. Ultimately, the court concluded that the defendant met the elements of the affirmative defense, and dismissed the plaintiff’s claim. The case presents an interesting issue for Washington, D.C. car accident victims in that it discussed under what situations a defendant’s potentially negligent conduct may be excused.
The Facts of the Case
The plaintiff was getting on the highway when the driver that was behind her quickly passed her, making an obscene gesture as he passed. The passing driver then slammed on his brakes, causing the plaintiff to quickly apply her own brakes in order to avoid an accident. The car immediately behind the plaintiff also applied the brakes, and was able to stop in time to avoid an accident.
The defendant truck driver was driving behind the third car in line, and despite braking and sounding his horn, was unable to stop in time. The defendant crashed into the car in front of him, and that car was pushed into the plaintiff’s vehicle.
The plaintiff was seriously injured in the collision and filed a personal injury lawsuit against the defendant. The driver that passed the plaintiff and slammed on his brakes sped away without stopping.
The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that under the “sudden emergency” or “imminent peril” doctrine, he was excused from liability. The trial court agreed, and granted the defendant’s motion. The plaintiff appealed.
The Appellate Court’s Decision
The appellate court affirmed the lower court’s decision to dismiss the plaintiff’s case. The court explained that under these facts, the defendant met the three elements of the sudden emergency doctrine. The court explained that the defendant had to prove that there was 1. an actual emergency, 2) that he did not cause or contribute to the emergency, and 3) that his conduct was reasonable.
The court held that the defendant met all three of the elements, explaining that a driver should not need to anticipate another’s road rage and subsequent decision to slam on the brakes immediately as they enter the highway. Notably, the court devoted the bulk of its discussion to the third element, likely indicating that it was the most contested element, or at least the one that presented the closest call.
Seeing as though this case was essentially a hit-and-run, the plaintiff in this case would likely be entitled to recover from her own insurance company, under the uninsured motorist protection clause, assuming she had such coverage.
Have You Been Injured in a Washington, D.C. Car Accident?
If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a Washington, D.C. car accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. The dedicated Washington, D.C. personal injury lawyers at the law firm of Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC have extensive experience assisting injury victims and their families seek compensation from those who are responsible for causing their injuries. We represent clients in all types of Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C car accidents. To learn more, call 410-654-3600 to schedule your free consultation today.
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Liability in Washington, D.C. Amusement Park Accidents, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, July 3, 2018